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Luxury Steeped in History: The Spas of Prague

By: Bryan Durocher
Posted: August 26, 2009, from the September 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

For several years, my well-traveled friends have been exclaiming about the city of Prague. They rave about the architecture, the food, the fun. “Best city in Europe!” they often declared after visiting. So when I booked my recent trip to the Czech capital, with plans to experience Pure Spa at the Hotel Le Palais Prague and the Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Prague, I was unsure if the city could possibly live up to the hype. Turns out, it did—and then some.

Prague is a delight, in large part because it was spared the bombs and other ravages of World War II. As a result, it offers a stunning variety of architecture—soaring Gothic spires, curved baroque domes, elegant Art Nouveau influences and modern Cubist façades. And it’s a city made for walking. Manageable in size, it’s possible to stroll along the lanes of the Old Town and through the wooded parks while covering a majority of this medieval jewel on foot. The 14th century Charles Bridge spans the Vltava River and connects the Old Town and Malá Strana. Rimmed with oil lamps and adorned with more than 30 statues, by day this stone Gothic structure is a sunny social hub while at night it becomes almost mystical, shrouded in mist that seems to hide specters from bygone centuries.

Prague’s history is rich: It has been the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburg Empire, the first Czechoslovak Republic, the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the Communist Republic of Czechoslovakia, and the modern and democratic Czech Republic. And each left a mark on the city, including the spa heritage bestowed by the ancient Romans.

Today, Prague is a hopeful, prosperous place. The city is surprisingly affordable—prices are considerably lower than in other European capitals—and the quality of the lodging, food, shopping and so on is equal to anything you would find in Paris, London or Rome. And it’s fun. The cultural scene is quite lively—Bohemians and Moravians are passionate about music, art and literature, and are proud to claim writer Franz Kafka and composer Antonin Dvorak, among others, as native sons. Additionally, the cuisine is varied and delicious. I experienced extraordinary food and wines everywhere I dined. There are elegant shopping malls and chic cocktail bars galore, along with opera, ballet, drama, smoky jazz cellars and dance clubs.

After a few days exploring the city, I was eager to discover how the vast variety of cultural and historical influences of Prague would influence the spa experience.

Gothic glamour